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tv   QA  CSPAN  August 28, 2016 11:00pm-12:01am EDT

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experience getting to know a muslim cleric and what it taught a woman about her perception of islam. another look at the u.s. role in the middle east with michael eisenstadt. ♪ announcer: this week on "q&a," author laurence leamer talking about his writing career and his latest book "the lynching." brian: laurence leamer, you are now an owner of 15 books you have written. why did you do books? laurence: i cannot do a living writing magazine articles. i tried. i could not write fast enough, so i wrote books. i did not make much of a living for a while. but i cap at it and that to me
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is the secret. persistence. brian: how do you pick your books? laurence: it is a stupid thing to do. i should choose an area and keep at it, but i wanted to do something much different. experience different lives. when you write a nonfiction book, you are thinking back in somebody's life. i want to piggyback on as many lives as i can. brian: of the 15 books, which one sold the most? laurence: "the kennedy women," by a longshot. the number two new york times bestseller. it was my agents idea. a book about a multigenerational book about women. nobody had ever written a multigenerational book about women. so, to put women at the forefront just totally changed things. brian: what about the kennedy women do you most remember and what did the audience want to hear when you talk to them? laurence: it was a book -- i suggested that you do not have
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to be a woman to love the kennedy women. because it was a book read by women. i mean, women of that generation women read that book and they , just loved that it was their story and they could all identify one way and another with the evolution of women in america. brian: you did a trilogy on the kennedys. which one came first? laurence: the kennedy women. brian: 1994. then what? laurence: i worked in a coal mine, earlier. when i was in magazine writer. i broke my finger in the coal mine, went back in. lived in west virginia in a trailer for six months. developed a love for country music. i went down and wrote a book about country music, which did not sell very well. then a publisher came back and said we want to do a book, the kennedy men, and if you do not
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do it, we will find somebody else to do it. that convinced me i should do it. so i did that one. brian: what was special about that particular book? laurence: it was the story of the men through the five generations, just the way the kennedy women had been the women. i was supposed to tell the entire story, but i did not. it got so long we had to break it into two parts. the second volume was the young generation that came after that. sons of camelot. brian: did you get to talk to any of the kennedy men? laurence: yes, and the women. brian: of all of those, who did you like the most, or who did you get the most from? laurence: mrs. shriver. since we have an hour, i'm going to tell you the story. i went to the special olympics. i went to the minneapolis games and i got in the car with the shriver's and spent the whole
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week with them. i did not ask. i just hung out with them. i came back and i set up -- she agreed to an interview. i have a journalist's soul. the phone rings, i'm going to answer the phone. ok? every writer i know answers the phone the same way. on the first ring you are so desperate to talk to somebody. the phone rang that morning of the interview, and i have to answer the phone. i totally panicked, do not know what to do. what can i do? i knew this woman who gave this wonderful oral history for the kennedy library. i do not know if she was still around. i looked at the phone book there were still phonebooks. and there she was, living in georgetown. i called and said -- i am doing a book. she said -- yes, i'd be happy. can you come over right now? i took a cab, walked in. this big house.
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withad had an affair churchill. she said, would you like to see my memorabilia? here is winston's cigar. i said, this is fascinating. i am doing this book on the kennedys, can we talk about the kennedys? she says yes. , how are the kennedys? i said, the kennedys are great. i think the history of the family changed with the assassination of president kennedy. he's dead? so, that was my day. that would have been about 1992. then mrs. shriver did talk to me. and i became quite close to her. i would go out to the events she would have over there. and it was interesting because we talk about the special olympics, to my mind is the best thing the kennedys have ever done. changed our attitude towards those with intellectual disabilities, all across the world.
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not just the united states. they started that in 1968. rosemary kennedy, of course, who had the lobotomy in 1941, was mildly intellectually disabled and her father tragically want to be on the cutting edge and had this lobotomy which ended up mental age of a three or four-year-old. they started the special olympics. but mrs. shriver was convinced the special olympics had nothing to do with her sister rosemary. i said, of course it is. i was made the mistake of calling her eunice, you don't do that. it was always mrs. shriver. mrs. shriver, of course rosemary had something to do that. of course she admitted maybe she did, but you cannot intellectually bring herself to do. but i think the special olympics should consider rosemary the cofounder. she should be up there right next to her sister.
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brian: where does he eunice shriver fit in with the family? laurence: she is the second oldest sister. brian: what about one of the men you talk to? laurence: i talked to teddy. brian: how open was see? he?as laurence: the tragedies remained an open wound to him his entire life. you bring up his brother and you think -- we have all had our parents -- we talk about our parents we felt so much about them. we do not tear up when we hear their name. but when you mention his brother and the loss, it was very hard for him to talk. very hard for him to talk. when i was due in that book, i also spent not thanksgiving day, but the wednesday evening before thanksgiving, i was invited to a dinner party in hyannisport at the kennedy home with all the close friends. my wife and i were the only people who were not close friends who were there that
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evening. it was the strangest thing. even among intimates, everyone is watching teddy. whatever teddy once, the they want. teddy wants, they want. if teddy wants to watch the football game, they watch the football game. and i thought, what a mad way to live? even in intimacy of your home, people cannot be themselves. brian: why do they trust you? laurence: if people advise me on being a journalist, was the most important thing? to be trustworthy. it troubles me when journalists lie to get information because it comes back to haunt us all. i have had a problem -- you just have to keep your word. people are shrewd, they are a good judge of people. i also take my interviews as much as i possibly can. when i read a book, i can usually tell where there has been tape recorders or whether people make casual notes and try to remake it afterwards. that saved me from lawsuits.
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i mean, actually i was sued by judith exner, who was jfk's mistress. she sued me because i talked to peter lawford's manager who said withad then paid to sleep kennedy when she met him during the presidential primaries. said, i never said that, she made that up. thank goodness i had the tape and i quoted precisely what he said, and that really saved me. brian: what happened to the lawsuit? laurence: $400,000 later it was thrown out. this the tragedy of journalism writing books. yes, there is libel insurance but there is a deductible. that cost me $50,000. we won, it cost me $50,000.
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thank goodness the kennedy women was a very successful book. so i can afford the $50,000. it does not matter. there was a stellar reporter who wrote a biography of donald trump, said he was worth $600 million and trump sued. trump said that was libel is, he was worth billions of dollars. he sued and it was thrown out. he had to come up with the deductible. trump lost, but trump won in terms of causing trouble for that writer. brian: how many different publishers have you had? laurence: it used to be one publisher forever, that is no longer true. i cannot even count how many i have had. i am now back with a publisher i was with 20 years ago. we are all mercenaries. you go wherever you get the best deal. nobody is loyal to anybody in america. corporations are not loyal to you and you are not loyal to them. same with publishing houses. people move on.
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authors move on. brian: you live in washington, d.c., now and home beach, florida. laurence: i used to hate people who lived in two places. what a jerk they must be. i live in florida partially because -- i do not like the winter and there's a big tax advantage of living down there. i am not making that much money anymore, it does not really matter. i like to play tennis, like to play year-round. and i work very hard. really what i do, i can work anywhere. brian: one of the books you have written is a book called the subtitle is " under the royal palms, love and death behind the gates of palm beach," which i have read and when i read it i thought, how does mr. leamer survived living in palm beach? what is the story? laurence: i had never been to palm beach before. remember the willie smith trial when he was accused of ripping
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-- raping this woman in palm beach? a kennedy relative. he was the precursor to oj. there were hundreds of journalists down there and i was one of them. i stayed at a hotel in palm beach. and i thought this is the , strangest place i have ever seen. there is no life. you go in this famous shopping center, nobody is there, nobody in the streets, no bathroom on the beach. there is no place to eat if you want to get a cup of coffee or something. this is bizarre. i thought, i'm going to get a place here and write a book about it. i got a place -- i tell this story in the book, we get this condominium and suddenly everybody treats me terribly. they came in, i had a leak and the people came -- the board members, they would not sit down. no, they would not sit down. they were just incredibly unpleasant to me. i cannot figure out what it was.
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christmas rolls around and my wife is the world's ultimate shopper. and we needed a christmas tree, and she said the only place was boynton beach, about 20 miles. we go to boynton beach and here's the place we go -- a guy out of "deliverance." this 90-year-old guy, toothless guy. he finds a tree for us and the tree is too big to put in the trunk of a car. we have to take the side roads. we are late, we were supposed to go to a dinner party. the parking garage is in the basement of the building. the garage is in the basement of the building. i said, i cannot carry the tree, it is enormous. she said grandpa carried a tree, why can't you carry a tree? i'm not grandpa. my wife is 5'2". she said, i will get it. she takes the tree, hall said off, takes it into the service elevator and brings it up. this is a very ritzy building. there are all these people going
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to parties and here's my little wife carrying this tree down the corridor. then i realize what it was -- i am not jewish. they thought i was jewish. i don't blame them because everybody thinks i'm jewish, ok? but i'm not jewish. i am a methodist. the reason they were so cruel -- and they were cruel -- was because they thought i was jewish. it was a wasp building. look, palm beach has changed. we have all kinds of people in the building. i am on the board now. it is a different palm beach and a different building. that is in my book, and it is partly about the jewish world of palm beach and the wasp world of palm beach and how they have very little to do with one another. it is one of the good things donald trump did when he bought mar-a-lago. he bought this palace in
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financial hard times. he wanted to build a bunch of big fancy homes on that land. the town would not let them do it, they did not like him. so we had dinner with a jewish lawyer and said we have these wealthy jews coming, most of them cannot do into the country club. if we start mar-a-lago, they will all come and join it. that is precisely what happened. brian: we have all heard about mar-a-lago. i looked it up, i think is that -- what is said, sea to lake? what is it? laurence: it is one of the most incredible buildings in america. marjorie meriwether post , in an erad trump when people thought no one wanted these big homes, trump got it and return it -- if i had billions of dollars, the lasting -- the last thing i would want to do on the weekend is hang out with a bunch of wannabes.
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wannabes in every way. but they are there with him every weekend. people call, if donald is in town, the place is full. and he wants to be around them. i mean, he wants -- this is before he ran for president, but even now he does that. it is funny because i had dinner easter sunday at trump golf course in west palm. and it is a very fancy buffet that they have. $100 per person buffet. all these fancy cars are out there, very wealthy people. they're getting the lobster and the fancy things. i am no better than them and i go get a steak. i looked to my right and there is donald. there is donald trump he wants a hamburger. he is the only person that -- he gets a hamburger, he gets it cooked until it is charred and he puts an inch of ketchup over the top. i thought, this guy -- he is a populist in his food,
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whatever you say about him. brian: have you talked with him? laurence: yes, he was in my book. brian: it starts off, the great donald might have been the son of a wealthy real estate developer but the protestant mogul is the uncrowned king of the new yorkers. laurence: yeah. i mean it in his flamboyance, he is it. brian: why do people want to live the way they do in palm beach, and would you describe why i asked the question? laurence: when i cannot figure out is, if i had that money, i would want the most interesting people around me. what is the point? but it is segregated in terms of its wealth. now i know somebody who has , earned around $400 million. he does not go down there because he is not wealthy enough. ok? and so, you look at me and you do not think how much i'm worth, you do not care how much i were
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-- m worth. there they look at you and know precisely how much you are worth so you are on their level. brian: how do you fit? laurence: i do not fit. i am the odd man out. brian: how do they know that? laurence: thanks to my book. my book came out, i was driven -- my car was driven off the road. the police chief said i should hire security. there is a video on youtube of someone screaming at me about what a they get im. a big it i a.m. -- i am. the book is the truth. i was astounded that of all my books, that would be the most controversial. brian: kennedy, rush limbaugh, donald trump -- i'm sure you can name other people that lived in and around palm beach? what is the draw for these folks? why does donald trump want to live in that world? laurence: he doesn't want to -- i wrote a book about arnold schwarzenegger. schwarzenegger was the same way.
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he could not stand to be alone. donald is that way, too. so he loves to have these people around there. and he is a wonderful host. i used to go to a chinese buffet in upstate new york. mr. trump is a better host the -- the and that. he would be there at the entrance greeting people. he just likes people in that way, no way around it. brian: what kind of a president would he be based on what you know of his activities in palm beach? laurence: i do not know. i have been writing a novel called "victor's way." it is the story of a flamboyant new york businessman becoming president of the united states. brian: when did you start it? laurence: a few months ago. i finished it. my editor said it is a terrific novel, terrific, that we do not know if people are going to want to read it next spring. we think when our national
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nightmare is over, nobody is going to read about this kind of care or. to.his kind of care -- this kind of character. well, it is not a track. it is about the rise of this man. i'm not sure where i'm going to do, whether to send it to publishers. i might just self publish it next month, i'm debating what to do. it is not just about him, it is -- arnold schwarzenegger is in there. unique characters. teddy kennedy is in this book. brian: the arnold schwarzenegger book was 2005? was that before or after he left -- he had to leave his wife? laurence: before. i knew about his womanizing but not that. brian: how much time did you spend on the schwarzenegger book? laurence: two years. brian: and you did not know he had a child by the woman who worked at the house?
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laurence: nobody did. believe me, if i knew it would be in there. brian: what was your reaction when you first heard it? laurence: i was stunned. but then people would say about other things. his closest friend was telling me the story -- when he ran, the before there was a scandal about all these women and how we like -- he liked to touch their breasts. and he was denying this. maria said you can either believe me or the l.a. times. the california people believed him. his close friend said that arnold called him and said, well this is just ridiculous, it is not true. i like to to touch their breasts. if he said i liked to touch their butts, i'd have a problem, but they didn't say that.
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that is why he was drawn to this woman. brian: why is the clip drawn to these people? laurence: it comes with them. it hurts them -- i mean, i mean it is obvious that certainly i think bill clinton would be going down in history as a great president if not for monica lewinsky. that hurt him dramatically. brian: how political are you? laurence: i try not to be that political. brian: i saw you on c-span when you announced that you were a liberal democrat. laurence: yes. but i try not to -- this novel i have written is not a liberal democrat's book. i try to keep it -- look, the kind of journalism that you and i represent is pretty much gone. the kind of who, what, where.
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i was columbia school of journalism class of 1969. the way we were taught to write, what was considered objective and fair. my old professor was of that school. if he saw the new york times, he would die. if he saw the front page of the new york times or the washington post. he would not believe it. when i read the newspapers, i am editing. you cannot say that, you should not say that. let the reader decide. but that is gone. brian: why? laurence: if you want to be a journalist, if you want to be successful, you have to have an edge. if you want to go on television, you want to go on his cable networks, you better have an edge one way or the other. forget it. if you try to be fair or in the middle, forget it. they do not want you. brian: have you developed an edge? laurence: not enough. a few years ago, it was ted kennedy's birthday and i got a call from bill o'reilly's producer to talk about ted kennedy. and i said, sure, that would be great. they said we want you to talk
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negatively about him. i said, why do i have to use the negatively? they said, because we have someone speaking positively. i said, i'm not going to do this. get one of your usual right-wing hacks. and i hung up. i had a few drinks that evening. about 7:00, the phone rings and it is the producer. says, the person who is supposed to speak positively, the satellite connection to network. could i speak positively about him on the phone? i said, ok. i am on with this guy from the national review. he is playing anti-kennedy. i said you live in an intellectual prison that you cannot escape. i just destroyed this guide. -- this guy. i was unbelievably good, shattering to him. i walked out saying come i'm so good at this.
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i'm back in washington, would you come on this evening? i said this is great, they wanted to talk about teddy again. they bring me down to the studio. and i am sitting there waiting and then i realize that, number one, the picture of a, his head is about twice as big as mine, the sound is bigger, and they say we are talking about ted kennedy and the sexual molestation of the priests in boston and ted kennedy -- what are you going to say? i said, i think we should really start talking about the history of the catholic church -- i don't want to hear your pathetic history, i want to know how this sleazebag -- has allowed this sexual predatory to get away with this. totally destroyed me. i went out of there limp, totally devastated. i never wanted to go on television again after that. brian: you know it is very successful and profitable. why? laurence: roger ailes, he is so
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despicable. i would like to see fox do a story about their guy. the reality of his life. and these other women have come forth and said what they had to do. there is a culture there that is just disgusting and degrading. i wish more people would come forward talk about it. brian: what i read in your book. palm beach is the same way. laurence: the world of palm beach is the country club world all across america. what money does and what people do with their money. brian: who ran you off the road? did you ever find out? laurence: i don't know. there was a french television crew taking me around and i thought it would use the outage but they did not.
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brian: at this stage in your life, what do you think of the united states? laurence: i fear the best days are behind us, in so many ways. brian: why? laurence: i just think we have such a marvelous thing going and we are not dealing seriously with the problems. i do not think either candidate is. my brother is a candidate for vice president with his professor at boston university who is running for president. they are probably going to get three votes. i do not know if the ticket is called, but they are out there trying to get publicity. he just did this essay about how he thinks every bill -- there should be a rule -- how will it affect the future? the next generation? the infrastructure of this country -- you cannot believe this is the united states. you go to europe, you get on the roads, their trains -- this is the richest country in the world. brian: all the characters you
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have written about, who is the most interesting in your opinion? laurence: shriver is pretty interesting. really unsolved -- willie mountt, who climbed everest and was the director of the peace corps and died, he is a fascinating man. in my new book, the cofounder of the southern poverty law center, he is fascinating. there are so many fascinating people, you can write books endlessly. so many interesting people. brian: let's talk about the new
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book. it is called "the lynching -- the epic courtroom battle that brought down the klan." in order to get started on this, you mentioned morris. tell us who he is. laurence: he is in alabaman who made a lot of money, a poor boy, the son of a tenant farmer who made a lot of money in the direct-mail business. then founded habitat for humanity. in 1971, he found it a civil -- the southern poverty law center civil rights law firm. , a brian: let's look at morris. you say he's now 79 years old. is he still active? laurence: yes. brian: here he is earlier. >> the judge is beginning to tell the jury what their role was in the case when all of a sudden he leaped to his feet. he had been brought there from prison and they jumped up because they thought he was trying to escape.
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he turned to the judge and said, your honor, can i say something to the jury? he cleared his throat. he said can you forgive me for , what i did to michael? of got back in her chair and looked at him in front of the jury, and i will never forget what she said if i live to be 100. , i have already forgiven you. brian: that was 1999, talking about michael donald and his mother. who are they? laurence: when michael donald was lynched in 1981 in mobile, alabama, his mother, that was the lynching. the klansmen were convicted. one was executed and one spent
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25 years in prison. and now i believe he is a kosher chef. morris thought this was not just these two young men who did this, they had been led to do this by a violent philosophy promoted by the united klan of america. morris filed a civil lawsuit against the united klans of america, and robert sheldon, the head of the klan. it was such a controversial thing, the five lawyers of the southern poverty law center thought it was a very quixotic case that would be thrown out. they didn't like the fact that, when morris was going after the klan, the offices were firebombed, they were death threats. people are showing up at his ranch with assault weapons, to kill him, and they were driven off. they didn't like this. there was security at the offices, and morris was going to
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go ahead with this no matter what. five lawyers quit, and they brought in a new team of lawyers, so morris continued and fought the lawsuit. brian: here is some video of robert sheldon. before we show it, is he still alive? laurence: he is not. brian: what was his job in 1981? laurence: he was the head of the united klans of america, the imperial wizard. brian: what do for a living? laurence: laurence: that was his living. brian: before he got involved? laurence: it's interesting. he was a prelaw student. he was a smart guy. prelaw at the university of alabama. he dropped out and went to germany, was in the army, and he saw these black soldiers dating the german women and said, that made him realize he should join the klan. and he went back and rose quickly in the klan, and was able to make his living. brian: here's the voice of charlie from cbs. this is robert sheldon. 1965. >> imperial wizards and grant
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-- grand dragons no longer avoid the press. klan leaders sport crew cuts, button-down collars and well tailored suits. the most publicized and best organized leader is the imperial lizard robert sheldon of the theed klan knights of kkk. he spent much of his time in his tuscaloosa, alabama office constantly listening to tape recordings of martin luther king jr. while he examines pictures of civil rights demonstrators. those he can identify are circled and filed. he explains why. >> we have a division called the bureau of investigation, and i believe it is pretty effective. able to uncover information other departments might miss. brian: klan bureau of investigation? does it still exist? laurence: not anymore. thanks to the southern poverty law center and the success of the lawsuit, which they used against these other large racist white supremacist organizations.
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there are not too many of them, but it was powerful than. my book points out, robert shelton was close to george wallace, the governor of alabama, very close to him. brian: what got you interested in the story? laurence: in 1967, i was a graduate student at the university of oregon. in international affairs. i was bored to death. i took a course in magazine writing. i talked my way with a grant foundation,lace talked my way onto george wallace's playing. brian: which wallace foundation? laurence: reader's digest. brian: ok. [laughter] laurence: which gives a lot of money to journalists over the years. i should have made that clear. i talk my way onto his plane. i spend four days with him, and submitted cold and article to the new republic about wallace, which they published, which helped me. this national student magazine sent me down to alabama to interview wallace in his office, the couple months later, and i
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got a fellowship to columbia university school of journalism. i had no background in journalism, but i think because of those two things. and that november, they sent me back to alabama for election night. so i go back a long way with george wallace. brian: what was he like up close? laurence: feisty guy. i mean, it's funny, he loved to spit tobacco. he would spit into this spittoon, right next to his desk. you would be sitting there, and you would not dare move your foot. you would hope it would not end up on your shoe. he was a good spitter, so he didn't do that. brian: we have video of him, for those who don't remember george wallace. >> i would like to point out to the people of this state, segregation in my judgment is in the best interest of all concerned, and i see nothing sinful or a religious about a system based upon what we believe in our hearts to be in the best interest of all concerned. brian: did he really believe
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that? laurence: this is what is so interesting. he didn't believe that. he was a smart guy. he knew segregation was going to end. he knew it. d -- thought, what the de klerk was in south africa, working with mandela to help end apartheid,. he could have done that. but he thought i could rise to power if i'm the most militant supporter of segregation, even if it was going to end. to me, that's the parallel with donald trump. about throwings 11 million people out of the country, not letting muslims into the united states, early in his campaign he knew he had to have something dramatic, to get attention, and that's what it was. brian: go back to the story. morris deeds, you say, worked with george wallace? laurence: he started out as a segregationist. he will say rightfully, everybody is a segregationist,
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and so was he. off a semesterk from school at the university of alabama to be wallace's student campaign manager for the state. three years later, as a young klanr, he defended the leader who led the beating up of freedom riders in montgomery. defended him. and in that trial, the last day, theame out and one of freedom marchers said, how can you be on the side of these people? he had an epiphany, and he knew it was wrong. and three years later, when the baptist church in birmingham was klans ofy the united america, killing four black girls. he was a very fervent baptist, and that sunday in his church outside montgomery he got up and said, we have fellow baptists in
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trouble. they said, tell us. he said, this baptist church in birmingham. these four little black girls were killed. we don't want to hear about this. this isn't our business. we must help them,. we are christians he said, let us pray. he bowed his head, and when he raised his head and looked up at them, there was nobody in the church. that's how divided things were in alabama, and that was a risk he was taking to stand up. brian: married five times? laurence: five times. maybe he married a six-time. brian: what kind of a guy is he? laurence: one of the great characters of all times. i mean, listen, he wants to be atticus finch, the hero of "to kill a mockingbird." every lawyer in america wants to be atticus finch. atticus finch probably destroyed more lawyers than anyone else, because they think, if i can't be atticus finch, i can't do anything good. he's not atticus finch.
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he's more like oskar schindler, the hero of schindler's list. this flamboyant, narcissistic, greedy businessmen who saved thousands of jews. oskar schindler was real, and morris israel. he's a guy who -- morris is real. he's a guy who used to drive his motorcycle 100 miles an hour in country roads. on the weekend he would be in rodeos. he's an unbelievable character, who did so much good in the world. he's very controversial. you look up his name, you will find positive things and negative things, but he has done all this good in the world, and he deserves some of the top awards that any american gets of his generation. he has not gotten them, because there is controversy. brian: let's watch more of morris deese from that same speech. >> i have family members who i love, in spite of them. [laughter] we know about families.
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the reason i love some of my family members. i have a couple uncles who were members of the ku klux klan, running a little country store. because i knew them personally, and i knew the good things about them, i knew them as individuals. and i'm not talking about the kind of love you have for your girlfriend, or your boyfriend, or the members of your church, or the people that you work with. i'm talking about that love for people who are different than you are. brian: you say in the book he is 6'8"? laurence: no. he is just a little over six foot. [laughter] brian: i was confused with somebody else. go back to the original story. you have the picture in the book of michael donald, hanging from this tree. but they didn't hang him from that tree originally, did they? laurence: there was aklan meeting three days before the lynching, and there was a bank robber in birmingham, who came
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out, shot and killed a white police officer. to have a fair trial, they brought him to mobile. he was on trial before a largely thelansmen k and decided -- and the klansmen decided that if he got off or there was a hung jury, they would find a black man and lynch him in retribution. there had not been a hanging in america since 1955. so they did that. michael was this teenager, training to become a brick layer. the youngest of seven children. home with his mother, in their house, and his aunt wants him to go get a pack of cigarettes. gives him a dollar. he goes out in this old buick, pulls up behind him. knowleses tiger no orders him into the back of the car, and he knows when he gets into the car what will happen. you know.
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driving around the countryside, he gets out. he's not a fighter. he's a timid young man, but he fights with her relic, her aerobically for his life -- heroically.-- for his life finally. they put the rope around his neck, and then strangle him to death and make sure to slit his throat. then they put him back in the truck. they don't leave them out in the woods, or throw him in the ocean, because they want to make an example. so they drive him back to mobile, and hang him in a tree. why an example? from 1870 to 1955, the last lynching before this one, there was an average, imagine, of one racial lynching a week in the south. and it was a brilliant psychological device to hold down a race. because if you were black, you were afraid this could happen to you. if you are a black mother, how do you raise your son? do you raise him to stand bold walking down the street, or the side andgo to
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take off his hat when a white person walks by. brian: back to the original clip of morris dees talking about knowles in the courtroom with michael donald's mother in the courtroom. what were the circumstances? when was the trial held? laurence: 1987. brian: and who was a lawyer who prosecuted? laurence: morris dees, it was not a prosecution, but a civil trial. brian: and how long did the drago on? laurence: for four days. brian: where was it? laurence: it was in mobile. brian: and how did you verify the whole story about tiger knowles? who else was with him when they put the noose around michael donald's neck? laurence: the other killer, who was executed. brian: what was his name? laurence: henry hayes. brian: so, when they went through this whole trial down there, how did you find out, how
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did you verify the story you have in the book? laurence: first of all, i had all the court documents. office they gave me an and all the documents i needed. but then i also went out, knocked on a lot of doors out in the countryside to find these klansmen, which was interesting. i interviewed one of the killers. brian: which one? laurence: tiger knowles, who is a kosher chef now after 25 years in prison. brian: what was he like, when he found him? laurence: he was only 17 years old when this happened, and it was as if he was talking about somebody that is and him. it really wasn't him anymore. andr 25 years, he got out, he's not going to be any more trouble to anybody. brian: so what was the reason they wanted to kill him in the first place? where did the hate come from? laurence: hate, that was so interesting, hate, they were not
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living with hate. it was time to go and kill a black man. the klan had what they called missionary activity, and their favorite missionary activity was to go beat a black person up. and when they were on the ground, they said, you go to the police, we have clansmen all over the police and we will kill you. that didn't reach the newspapers. just like the mother of the victim. she wanted her son to be remembered, because she was old enough to know about a time when black people would just disappear. they were just gone. nobody knew. the police didn't care. nothing would happen. they were just gone. that's the south. that's why we have to remember. just the way we remember the holocaust now, as part of our lives, for this not to happen again, we have to make this part of our memory of our country. and thanks to these wonderful historians, beginning to look at slavery and this whole era, we're doing that, but we
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desperately need to do that as a people and a country. brian: is mrs. donald still alive? laurence: she died soon after the verdict. she didn't care about the money. brian: how much did she get? laurence: it was a $70 million verdict, but theklan only -- the klan only have $50,000, enough to bankrupt them and for her to buy a house, all that was. brian: the photographs we see. how did you get your hands on those photographs? laurence: of the lynching? i debated whether i should put them in the book. but why hide it? this is the horrendous thing that happened. you can pretend it did not happen. and that was happening in the south, in 1884i believe, there was a lynching in texas, with 12,000 people to see it. it was a family event. you would bring your family to see it. the church, you go to church and then you come down to the lynching. and that's why the cost of this, the cost of racism, is not just
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to african-americans, but to the white race. what is it like to be in a culture where you do this? what is the cost of that to you? brian: now, this book took you how long to write? laurence: two years. brian: how much time did you spend in alabama? laurence: a lot. brian: and what did you find in alabama, about race today? laurence: it is still a troubling scenario. brian: what did you see? laurence: i saw that, you know, the restaurants are integrated, but you are not going to see too many african americans. the schools. there are three schools in montgomery that are excellent schools, with a mixture of african americans, whites, asian-americans. there are two big korean auto plants right near the town. excellent education. i would send my daughter, granddaughter there in a minute. but the black schools are terrible, and they don't educate very well at all. so there's that.
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and the races don't, you know, it's funny because i asked morris, and i could speak very candidly to him. i said, why are they no african-americans at your parties? you have these big parties. he said, they don't want to be here. they have got their world. they want to be part of, they don't want to be a token at my party. brian: so, how does the southern poverty law center make its money? laurence: it raises money. it is a phenomenal, that's one of the criticisms of it, that an endowment of over $200 million. that's because morris is a brilliant fundraiser. people criticize, they say, why do you spend that money? but he wants to make it so solid, that no matter what happens to the economy, it will go on and on and on. with that kind of money, it certainly should. brian: how big of an organization is it?
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laurence: there are about 50 lawyers. another thing that's interesting. it is still in montgomery. one thing i admire about morris, he loves alabama. it would have been so easy to move it to washington, or to atlanta. he loves that place. he loved it when he was totally ostracized, when people turned their back on him. now, believe me, it is a pain going to dinner with this guy in montgomery. you walked into the restaurant and every cable somebody's getting up to say hello. it is turning around. and people admire what he did, and does. brian: how many african-americans did you talk to, who might have been around in 81, 84, in the time frame? laurence: when morris was growing up, he had mainly black friends, which was very unusual. there was segregation. they wouldn't be coming in the house for dinner, but his father was known as somebody who was fair to black people.
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they had a cotton gin, which people bringing in cotton got the same price a white person would get. he still has these friends. i talked to two of those friends. i talked to a lot of african-americans in montgomery about it, about those times. , civil rights leaders and others. brian: why were his friends mostly african americans? he was a segregationist himself. laurence: but those were his buddies. they are still his buddies. brian: have you given much thought to another book? laurence: i am desperately looking for a subject. i drive my wife crazy. i wrote this novel because i was looking. i thought, well, i'm going to do this. but i'm always looking for a subject. brian: where did you grow up? laurence: i was born in chicago. my father was a professor at the university of chicago. i went to public school there.
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when i was 10, we moved to upstate new york, and my father moved to harper college, now the state university of new york at binghamton, and i went to a three room college -- schoolhouse. brian: you went all over the world. where have you lived, and what reason were you there? laurence: i went to antioch college, which had a year abroad. i worked in a factory in france, which made the engines for the mistral train. that's how i worked french -- learn french, working in a factory. brian: why were you doing that? laurence: antioch had a work-study program, which is great for a writer, because you work all these different jobs. i worked in a factory, that i went with the peace corps to nepal, a fabulous place. incredible experience. brian: how long were you there? laurence: two years. brian: what did you get from all that, the peace corps? laurence: the best group of people i have ever been around in my life. i'm so close to many of them.
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our unions, everything from people who went to community colleges, to people who went to harvard, just a mix of people. one of these guys, i still play tennis with him occasionally. he was a marine officer, combat officer in vietnam. he says it was more difficult, his experience in the peace corps, than being a marine officer. so it was tough. it wasn't easy to do this. and people had a lot of health problems, that some still have now, living in those conditions for two years. but it was a great experience, great experience. brian: what do you think the peace corps gets today? laurence: it's funny. i took three months off when obama was first elected to work to push him to keep his promise that he made many times during the campaign to double the size of the peace corps. unfortunately, he has not done that. but i also worked to bring in a new leader of the peace corps, to really revitalize it. my best candidate was tim shriver, who was the head of the
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special olympics international. not because of the name, and his father was the founder of the peace corps, but because he would do a great job. but he didn't get it and we haven't doubled the size of the peace corps. brian: what did you do in those who months to try to get into double the peace corps? laurence: we lobbied. and that was one of the great things. first of all, who were people lobbying? we could get in to see everybody. we would go in, lobby senators, congresspeople. brian: with tim shriver? laurence: tim shriver had nothing to do with it. we were knocking on all these doors. we petitioned. near the an event white house, and marched on the white house, asking them. did all these things. we worked hard on it. it was very inspiring. it was said we couldn't get --we had some luck in raising the amount, but you could just do this as an american. the essence of democracy.
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citizens don't do it as much as they should. i have another friend. i covered the war in bangladesh, and my friend worked with a group of bengalis to change american foreign-policy. we tilted toward pakistan thanks to henry kissinger, during that time. they had nothing, and they knocked on doors. and this little group, without any power or money, changed american foreign-policy. david just a couple years ago, he retired, one of the top bankers at chase manhattan, but he won an award from the bengalis for what he did. again, what you can do in a democracy if you take advantage of it. brian: you are in a classroom with some writers, and they ask you the following question. can you make a living off of writing books? laurence: i hit the wave. i hit it. i would be ashamed to tell you how big several of my advances were. they were in norman's e
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-- enormous. i got a million-dollar advance for the kennedy women, then a million-dollar events again. three times, $1 million. now i get 10% of that sometimes. that's what has happened to publishing. it's very hard to make a living. but people are discovering news in other ways. that's why i'm thinking of publishing this new book of mine self published. last week i was reading about it, thinking, that's exciting. maybe we can do this. maybe there are new ways to do this. that's the greatness, the entrepreneurial greatness of america. we are constantly reinventing ourselves. brian: did the publisher get their million dollars back? laurence: they sure as hell did, and a lot more. brian: besides the advance, you got more money as the books sold? laurence: i'm embarrassed i even said that, frankly. brian: why? laurence: money is not -- look, when i started writing, nobody would ever talk about money.
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you sit around with writers. that's not what you are in it for. now people talk about it all the time. they talk about the bestseller list, even when they are writing books that won't make it. it used to be writers, if you never have a bestseller, you are respected and honored and have a decent living. that's not true anymore. brian: what do you know about writing books, the advances people get today, what are the chances you would live this life again under the current circumstances? laurence: i think i'm a pretty persistent person. i think i have shown that. magazines,ving with i couldn't with books, and i was struggling and struggling. i think if you really want to do something, again the greatness of america, you can find a way to do it. i think i would find some way to do it. i feel so passionately about it. brian: what's the biggest mistake people make writing books? laurence: not being persistent enough, and not rewriting enough. brian: how often do you rewrite? laurence: it's funny. with the computer now, you don't
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even know how many times you rewrite. you write again and again and again. brian: do you spend more time in washington or palm beach? laurence: are you with the irs? [laughter] and half. brian: i mean, there's no state tax in florida. that's why some new people retire there. the name of the book is "the lynching, the epic courtroom battle that brought down the klan," and there are 14 other books. our guest has been laurence leamer. thank you very much. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2016] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] ♪ ♪ ♪ or to free transcripts,
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